Elderflower cordial, or, I know what I’m drinking this summer

When I was in the park last weekend, I was excited to realize that both the elderflowers were in bloom AND that I had a bag with me in which I could carry some home with me. They were everywhere; even just taking a couple from each tree I passed, I ended up almost filling this bag.
20140620-072515.jpgI’ve made Leda Meredith’s elderflower champagne in previous years and it’s good [note from that link: the period when elderflowers are in bloom is known as the elderblow–how great is that?], but this year I decided to give The Wednesday Chef’s elderflower cordial a go instead. I had enough of the flowers to make a double batch, which has been sitting on the back of my stove all week until this morning when I strained it…
20140620-072530.jpg…and filled whatever jars and bottles were within reach.
20140620-072544.jpgConsidering that you only need about a tablespoon in a glass of water, I think I–and maybe everyone I know–are pretty much set for the summer. I had some in seltzer, which was lovely, but to my surprise, I actually preferred the cordial in a glass of very cold still water. The floral flavor really shines through without anything getting in the way. I imagine I’ll still manage to choke it down in a glass of prosecco though.

One note: I forgot to get citric acid, so couldn’t do the last step. Therefore, I’m considering my cordial to not be shelf stable and will be keeping all of it in the fridge.

The best summer dress

I’ve written before about how much I love the no-longer-being-produced Mociun tie-front dress and how happy I was to realize that one of the Washi Dress expansion pack variations is a dead ringer for it. I finally finished a version of it this weekend and I love it unreservedly.

I wore it Friday night with heels to go out to dinner with Rob, then with sandals on Saturday when I was going to be meeting a bunch of new people and just pulled it on today with silver clogs, knowing that I’m going to be seeing a couple of my most stylish ladyfriends tonight, so I think it may officially be my new favorite dress.
10464061_10202672659312536_4493005448547722768_nIf I’d known how much I was going to like it, I would have done a better job putting it together though. I was really just thinking of this as a test run. I’m out of muslin so decided to try the pattern out using some cheap poly satin I had a fair bit of yardage of. Years ago, my mom and I had bought all of it that was left on the bolt, getting a big discount, and split it. I’ve never really known what to do with it though since the pattern is attractive but the fabric itself is so shiny and cheap looking. I figured I’d get it rid of it by testing the pattern, but when I got it out, I realized that the wrong side is actually pretty great looking, so that’s what’s on view. It made assembly tricky though, since the sides facing each other for all the sewing were really slippery.
-1I’m not sure the degree of shininess really comes through here; that’s the “wrong” side on the left and “right” side on the right:
20140618-072402.jpgThe dress came together very easily and quickly. It’s fitted with bust darts and an elastic casing at the back, so there’s no zipper to insert. It’s fitted enough on top that it doesn’t look like a sack, but it’s loose enough to be light and breezy and comfortable all summer. It looks good on its own or with a cardigan or blazer over it or tights or leggings under it, so depending on the fabric, it’ll work for all but the very bitterest cold days. I want to make half a dozen of them. I ordered some of this gorgeous Nani Iro double gauze for my next one; I can’t wait.

Knitting update

20140616-090411.jpgBefore I get further in my current spinning project, I wanted to pause and see what kind of fabric the yarn I’m making is producing. I made sample skeins of (from left to right) two plies of the Gotland fleece, one ply Gotland/one Gotland blended with mohair top, and one where both plies are Gotland and mohair and swatched them each on #9 needles. I went into this experiment fully expecting to love the one with the most mohair content the best, but it was actually my least favorite; it’s too heavy and dense and I think the colors got muddied. Both of the other swatches are really lovely though; it’s impossible to choose a favorite. I think I’ll probably spin singles of Gotland/mohair until the mohair runs out, ply it all with Gotland singles, and then ply whatever’s left of the Gotland with itself. It’s a decent-sized fleece; I may end up with a sweater’s worth of each.

While those projects are just barely in the planning stage, though, this cabled cardigan is in the home stretch. I just need to do the front bands, weave in the ends, and block it. And find buttons, but considering that I won’t be able to wear it for at least four months, there’s no real rush on that end.
And, lastly, I am thrilled and honored to announced that my wedding dress won both the knit/crochet category and Best in Show at the Crafty Awards.

Cat ownership = a life of endless glamour


not a picture of the cat in question

I had planned to write a different post today, one about art that I’ve seen recently and THOUGHTS and FEELINGS, but when I came into our guest room/office/amp storage/litterbox room this morning, where my desk is, I found that the cat had thrown up on my computer. It’s a laptop, it was closed, I cleaned it off, not a big deal. I pulled out the desk chair to sit down…and found a pile of vomit under the desk. It had missed a nearby pile of reasonably important papers and folders, which was nice, so I cleaned that up, sat down at the desk, looked up…and saw a puddle of puke on the windowsill. In cleaning that up, I discovered that my little sweetpea had also disgorged into a large glass-jar candle that was sitting there. At this point, I’m seeing phantom cat barf out of the corner of my eye everywhere I go.

Fuzz Ferdinand got outside this weekend. We were in and out from the deck all day; I finally bought some plants, so I was repotting them and Rob was reading the paper, and even though we were keeping an eye on the door, the cat slipped out and we missed it. Worse, we didn’t realize it for hours, since he has a habit of hiding and napping in the apartment, so it’s pretty common to not see him for a while. But in the late afternoon, we did a thorough search of the apartment and had to admit he was out in the world by himself somewhere. We walked around the block and let our neighbors know and, in desperation, I googled “how to find a lost cat.” It turns out that the Wikihow for finding a lost cat is actually incredibly helpful–I’ve mostly had indoor-outdoor cats, and Luz was singular in many ways, but especially in that she’d come outside and sit on the stoop with us and exhibit complete disinterest in going anywhere else–so I’d never been in that position before. I’d even bought a harness and leash (to tie him to the deck railing, not for walking around) earlier in the day, but couldn’t get it on him. Was I beating myself up for not trying harder? I WAS INDEED.

I was picturing Fuzz taking off and getting as far away as possible and happily adapting to life on the run, possibly joining a gang of feral cats, but the wiki said that he was probably very close to home, scared, and hiding, and to relax and keep checking at dusk and after dark when he was more likely to venture out. So that’s what we did. We had a few sightings and he pulled off some ninja moves–at one point, Rob, our landlord, and I had him cornered in the space under our desk, which is bricked in on three sides, and he just…vanished–that would have been impressive if I hadn’t just wanted to get him inside again so badly. Eventually, I put his food bowl outside and left the outside light on. A few hours later, right before I was going to have to give in and go to sleep, I checked again and he was cowering under the bench on the deck. I lured him out with his favorite catnip-filled banana and brought him inside. He was pretty freaked out and covered with twigs and whatnot, but unhurt and he’s been extra cuddly and loving since.

He is microchipped, but I don’t know if the contact information was updated when we adopted him. If he was brought into a shelter, they would have been able to find us through the adoption people, but they likely would have shamed us (with vigor!) and I would really like to avoid that.

Liesl Gibson workshop

This weekend I took an intensive, two-day workshop on fit and pattern modification in Liesl Gibson‘s studio in Bushwick. It was the first time she’d held a workshop in her own workspace, but she teaches this topic pretty regularly, I think. It was fantastic, of course. I learned a long time ago to choose classes and workshops based on the instructor, not the topic (I mean, if Judith Mackenzie McCuin taught a class on, I don’t know, spork carving or clock repair I’d take it in a heartbeat and I know it would change my life. I’d even take her class on cotton spinning and I HATE spinning anything that short and fine), and even though I hadn’t met Liesl before, I knew enough about her information-dispersing style from her online presence and the way other people talk about her teaching to know that it would be a really good fit for me. (Fit! Ha!) Happily, the subject of the class was something I was interested in anyway and it was a really, really terrific experience.

Everyone else in the workshop had come in from out of town and they all got together Friday night for drinks at Liesl’s apartment and dinner in the neighborhood. I had to miss that, unfortunately, but it was because Rob and his mom and I had dinner and went to see Hegwig (SO good) for her birthday, so I didn’t mind. I met up with them all the next morning for breakfast before we went to the studio. She talked to us about design ease versus fit ease and how to figure out how much you want and how they work together and she walked us through her favorite ways of tracing patterns and transferring the pattern markings, including all the seam allowances, to muslin. I got the impression that students in other workshops may have squawked at the admittedly time-consuming and fiddly practice of drawing in the seam allowances on all of the muslin pieces, but our group was pretty game and ready to get down to the business of sewing clothes that fit, regardless of whether that meant spending an extra 20 minutes marking the 5/8″ line around our pattern pieces.

20140602-200655.jpg Then we put together the muslins and Liesl evaluated the fit with the others weighing in. I learn best by doing a thing myself with an expert nearby who can help when I need it, so it was the ideal format for me. We’d each brought a pattern–we weren’t making the same thing–and I’d brought Simplicity 1652, which looks like crap on the pattern envelope but has really lovely, versatile lines. I did the full back and cap sleeve options. This is from their “Amazing Fit” line, which has separately drafted bodice pieces for different cups sizes. Mine ended up fitting me pretty well right from the get-go–I just had to take out a quarter inch on each side of the bodice–though Liesl did end up redrafting my sleeve cap a little taller and narrower. I’d gone in expecting to have to lengthen the torso, but the group was unanimous that even though the waist didn’t hit right at my natural waist, it was actually better that way since it added a bit of visual length to my legs and let the skirt gathers fall at a more flattering spot that lowering the waist would have.

The workshop was spread out over two days, which was really, really great. It meant that we didn’t have to rush to finish things by the end of the first day when we were all getting tired and that a couple of people even had time to fit more than one pattern. I didn’t–I wanted to make sure the skirt fitted too, so I put the whole thing together, but some of the others just worked up the bodices of their dresses or were just making tops. We all ended up learning from each other too; I’ve always had the hardest time getting gathers even, to the point where it’s been kind of disheartening (if I can’t even do this, how can I expect to ever do ANYTHING right? and so on; minor sewing difficulties make me oh so very dramatic), but two of the other students walked me through how they do it and it was the best I’d ever done (high fives, Lisa and Amy!).

I learned a lot of specific and/or technical bits of sewing-related information, to be sure, but one of the more valuable insights I gained this weekend, which blew my mind a little, is that I’m better at this than I generally think I am. When we were walking over to the studio from the subway that first morning, I said something to Liesl about not being very good at sewing, but I honestly don’t think that’s true anymore. I’m not advanced, certainly, and I won’t be making things I’m 100% thrilled with until I’ve logged a lot more hours of practice, but I’m going to stop saying that I’m not good. When I take the time to cut carefully and pin precisely and match marks and press properly, I am at least somewhere north of adequate. I may even stop being afraid of zippers by the end of the year and then I will be UNSTOPPABLE.

The only slightly unfortunate thing about the workshop was the timing, since it came right after I’d spent two days being ON and professional at BEA and another day doing same at LJ‘s pre-BEA Day of Dialog, so I was a little wiped out by the time Saturday morning rolled around. Day of Dialog was really great this year, by the way. I mentioned last week that I’d be moderating a panel on women’s fiction (does such a creature actually exist? do women want different things from the reading experience than men? is it all made-up marketing malarkey?) with a terrific group of authors–Chelsea Cain, Rainbow Rowell, Sophie Littlefield, Pamela Nowak, Lauren Oliver, Lisa Scottoline–and Tara Parsons, who’s the editorial director at Harlequin’s Mira line. I knew it would be good because the panelists are all professionals who know how to talk about their work and the larger world of publishing and books in front of an engaged audience, but it was even better than I’d even dared to hope. They’re all hilarious and supersmart and, not to mince words, I’m very good at moderating and providing a framework for discussion. I’m pretty sure there’s no video record, but if I can find any write-ups, I’ll add them here.

Five for Friday

20140523-103341.jpg1. I love Kim’s new rules for email.

2. I’ve joined the sewalong for Colette Patterns’s Mabel. I haven’t worked much with knits and this seems like a pretty easy entry point to that whole thing. I don’t know that I’ll actually make one—it’s not a style I really wear—but the photos and write-ups seem like they’ll be helpful for future knits sewing.

3. This “Hostile Questions” interview series for authors is pretty amusing.

4. Is anyone going to LJ‘s Day of Dialog next week by any chance? I’m moderating a panel with Chelsea Cain, Lisa Scottoline, Rainbow Rowell, Sophie Littlefield, Pamela Nowak, Lauren Oliver, and an editor from Harlequin’s Mira line. We’re going to be talking about all sorts of issues and ideas around writing and marketing to, for, and about women and I’m pretty excited about it.

5. I’ve still finding my feet on Instagram, but I really, really love seeing all the photos from Dutch Flower Line first thing every morning.

Sunday productive Sunday

P1090128Now that the weather is warming up, my craft focus has started to shift back to spinning and sewing. I’ve been carding the Gotland fleece I got at Rhinebeck last year with some hand-dyed mohair top I’ve had since before I moved to New York, so 1999? 2000? I know I bought it on eBay from a seller whose name I can’t remember who sold different base fibers dyed in the same range of colorways and that this one was called Vienna Woods. I bought the plain wool and the mohair, spun them separately, plied them together, and knit an oversized seamless raglan cardigan out of the yarn. I’m not sure what happened to the sweater. Maybe I gave it to my mom at some point?

Anyway. I had close to a pound of the mohair left over and it’s been sitting in my stash, moving with me [counts] either seven or eight times, depending on where I was living upstate when I bought it, and I’m delighted that I’m finally doing something with it. My original plan was to ply this blended single with a plain Gotland single for yarn for a big, wild, wooly pullover. I may still do that, but I think I’ll have enough of the blend to ply on itself and still have sufficient yardage for a big, wild, wooly pullover.

I had my favorite kind of day yesterday, the kind where I spend my time moving from project to project, making demonstrable progress on a number of things. I made a batch of spicy peanut sauce to have with noodles and vegetables for dinner and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a work party today. I worked on my cashmere/merino cabled cardigan (the back, two fronts, and one sleeve down; the last sleeve, assembly, collar, and ribbing left to go), the scrap chevron afghan I’m crocheting, and the handspun log cabin blanket I’m knitting. I made a batch of soap (scented with orange, clove, and cinnamon) and cut out fabric for a Scout tee. I got caught up on The Americans (I really like the show, but have kind of forgotten what Larrick’s damage is in the first place, so I’m not as fully invested in what’s going on as I could be), watched an episode of the original Swedish The Bridge, and listened to a fair chunk of The Alienist audiobook. Looking at my calendar for the next couple of months, I’m not sure when I’m going to have another full day just for puttering, so I’m glad I put that one to good use.

Five for Friday

11238715056_e0ac1a01b0_b1. Good news! The Washi Dress Expansion Pack has a variation that’s exactly what I was looking for to replicate the Mociun tie-front dress I’m obsessed with. Better news: it looks relatively straightforward to sew and doesn’t have a zipper, my bête noire.

2. I know, I really should just practice at setting in zippers until I’m not a-feared of them anymore. I know.

3. Bad news for no one but me: I lost my favorite Tiro Tiro necklace at some point last night. I assume it fell off during the walk from the main branch of the Brooklyn library, where I’d been attending an event, and the Jamaican restaurant a few miles away where I had dinner.  I don’t generally mourn lost or broken possessions; things come into our lives and move out again and that’s absolutely fine and as it should be. But I’d scrimped a bit to buy this one, I wore it all the time, and I really loved it. Rob offered to go look for it, but that’s a long stretch of a busy road and it’s going to be raining all day. I hope someone found/finds it who likes it and wears it a lot.

4. I really want to do this dumpling tour of Sunset Park. Dumplings are my favorite food group. If my last name were spelled slightly differently, my very name, if one spoke German, would be Stephanie Dumpling. Dumplings, man. The best.

5. I submitted my wedding dress to be considered for a Crafty Award. There is a panel of judges, but apparently votes matter too, so if you’re inclined to go vote for me, I’d really appreciate it. In fact, if you do vote, let me know (comment here, email me, tweet at me, whatever) and I’ll keep a list and pick someone at random to send some of my homemade soap.

Black bean burgers and spicy sweet potato oven fries

There are a lot of feral cats in this neighborhood and most of them seem to be in heat at the moment. This wouldn’t be a big deal–I never noticed it other years–except that it’s turning poor, simple Fuzz Ferdinand into a desperate, manic creature who races around the apartment in the wee hours, back and forth between the office, where there’s an open window whose ledge he can get onto, and our room, which is at the back of the building and therefore closer to those yowling temptresses just begging for a man like him. (He’s neutered, but apparently not immune to the charms of a strong, horny yowl.) He jumps up on the bed, generally my side since I’m closer to the door, generally on me, runs to the other side of the bed, which is closer to the window, pauses breathlessly, then realizes he could actually hear them better (and possibly even smell them) in the other room, so he jumps down and tears ass back to the office, where he sits for a minute and realizes that he’d be closer to them if he were in our room. Back and forth. Over and over. He really is a Cat of Little Brain, but he’s sweet and he’s handsome and I assume the feral cats will all get knocked up and stop begging for it outside our window every night. At that point, he’ll forget all about being lovelorn and I’ll be able to do what passes for sleeping through the night for me again.

I suppose this would be a good time to make a donation to that one-woman neighborhood TNR (trap, neuter, release) effort. First though, the best veggie burger I’ve ever had.

I’ve made these a few times, enough that they’re becoming a staple around here, using Kenji “New York’s Christopher Kimball” Lopez-Alt’s recipe as a basic guideline. In truth, though, once you’ve run through it the process once, it’s not really something you need a recipe for. I combine two cans of drained, rinsed black beans, one pureed, one coarsely mashed with a fork; a couple of minced chipotle peppers in adobo (I buy a big can a couple times a year and freeze the peppers individually with a dollop of sauce, so I always have them onhand); a big handful of coarsely chopped raw cashews, and a another handful or so of grated cotija cheese. Now that I’m looking at the menu, I see that Kenji adds caramelized onions too, which is a step I’ve always managed to miss, but they’d be a great addition. I also haven’t taken the time to roast the beans first, but again I’m sure the burgers would be the better for it. Then I add a few spoonfuls of yogurt and an egg and mix in cracker or panko crumbs until the mixture holds together. And that’s it. Form into patties and cook in the oil of your choice (I use either bacon fat or coconut oil) for four minutes on each side. They’ll get a nice crust and make for a thoroughly satisfying dinner, especially with cheese and a strip of bacon or two.
20140514-083859.jpgI get eight patties out of the recipe and freeze the extra, which means four dinners for a minimum of effort, especially since they’ll defrost and then cook in almost the exact amount of time it takes to make a fresh batch of spicy sweet potato oven fries, which are the perfect side.20140514-084008.jpg

Spicy sweet potato oven fries
serves 2

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into fry-sized pieces
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tsp garam masala or other sweet curry powder
1 tsp smoked paprika

Heat oven to 400. Put coconut oil in a small, oven-safe dish and put in the oven until it’s melted. Mix the spices into the oil. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, spread the sweet potato pieces out, and pour the spice mixture over them. Toss to coat. Spread the sweet potato pieces out as evenly as possible, trying to have them all touching the backing sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, flip them over, and bake another 20 minutes.

They’re flavorful enough to eat on their own, but I’m partial to thick yogurt with sriracha and a bit of salt stirred in as a dipping sauce.


Five for Friday


1. I made Mark Bittman’s recipe for tofu jerky this week (the miso variation, more or less) and it’s really good. It’s basically just semi-dehydrated tofu used as the vehicle for savory flavor. It took a fair amount of work–careful slicing, frequently turning the pieces over in the oven and brushing them with the sauce–for how long they lasted, but as healthful, relatively inexpensive snacks go, they’re a keeper.

2. I can’t stop thinking about a documentary I watched last night, The Elephant in the Living Room. It’s about people who keep exotic animals as pets, yes, but mostly from the point of view of one man, Tim Harrison, who gets called in when they escape or hurt someone or aren’t being cared for properly. Absolutely fascinating.

3. I only have a single sweater project on the needles at the moment, which isn’t like me at all. I’m kind of enjoying the experience of being single-minded in this way though. Maybe knitting the wedding dress last summer broke me or something something monogamy.

4. I actually did win part of the pot at my mother-in-law’s Derby party last weekend, since California Chrome was one of the names I drew out of the pot. I had to split the money five ways, but we got a night’s worth of Tibetan takeout earlier in the week and some tacos last night and still have enough left over to order a pizza or two at some point. Apparently found money = takeout money around here.

5. This week I learned that C.S. Lewis had a fondness for the whip, which came up during a very interesting conversation I had on Twitter yesterday with a former coworker and a few librarians. There’s some about it in this New Yorker profile, in The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller (who also weighed in on Twitter), and in A.N Wilson’s biography of him. As my friend Molly pointed out, it does add some texture to the character of Jadis and how easily Uncle Andrew is in thrall to her.